The Fifth Side of the Triangle

by John Michael Greer

The Archdruid Report (December 07 2016)

Druid perspectives on nature, culture, and the future of industrial society

One of the things I’ve had occasion to notice, over the course of the decade or so I’ve put into writing these online essays, is the extent to which repeating patterns in contemporary life go unnoticed by the people who are experiencing them. I’m not talking here about the great cycles of history, which take long enough to roll over that a certain amount of forgetfulness can be expected; the repeating patterns I have in mind come every few years, and yet very few people seem to notice the repetition.

An example that should be familiar to my readers is the way that, until recently, one energy source after another got trotted out on the media and the blogosphere as the excuse du jour for doing nothing about the ongoing depletion of global fossil fuel reserves. When this blog first got under way in 2006, ethanol from corn was the excuse; then it was algal biodiesel; then it was nuclear power from thorium; then it was windfarms and solar PV installations; then it was oil and gas from fracking. In each case, the same rhetorical handwaving about abundance was deployed for the same purpose, the same issues of net energy and concentration were evaded, and the resource in question never managed to live up to the overblown promises made in its name – and yet any attempt to point out the similarities got blank looks and the inevitable refrain, “but this is different.”

The drumbeat of excuses du jour has slackened a bit just now, and that’s also part of a repeating pattern that doesn’t get anything like the scrutiny it deserves. Starting when conventional petroleum production worldwide reached its all-time plateau, in the first years of this century, the price of oil has jolted up and down in a multiyear cycle. The forces driving the cycle are no mystery: high prices encourage producers to bring marginal sources online, but they also decrease demand; the excess inventories of petroleum that result drive down prices; low prices encourage consumers to use more, but they also cause marginal sources to be shut down; the shortfalls of petroleum that result drive prices up, and round and round the mulberry bush we go.

We’re just beginning to come out of the trough following the 2015 price peak, and demand is even lower than it would otherwise be, due to cascading troubles in the global economy. Thus, for the moment, there’s enough petroleum available to supply everyone who can afford to buy it. If the last two cycles are anything to go by, though, oil prices will rise unsteadily from here, reaching a new peak in 2021 or so before slumping down into a new trough. How many people are paying attention to this, and using the current interval of relatively cheap energy to get ready for another period of expensive energy a few years from now? To judge from what I’ve seen, not many.

Just at the moment, though, the example of repetition that comes first to my mind has little to do with energy, except in a metaphorical sense. It’s the way that people committed to a cause – any cause – are so often so flustered when initial successes are followed by something other than repeated triumph forever. Now of course part of the reason that’s on my mind is the contortions still ongoing on the leftward end of the US political landscape, as various people try to understand (or in some cases, do their level best to misunderstand) the implications of last month’s election. Still, that’s not the only reason this particular pattern keeps coming to mind.

I’m also thinking of it as the Eurozone sinks deeper and deeper into political crisis. The project of European unity had its initial successes, and a great many European politicians and pundits seem to have convinced themselves that of course those would be repeated step by step, until a United States of Europe stepped out on the international stage as the world’s next superpower. It’s pretty clear at this point that nothing of the sort is going to happen, because those initial successes were followed by a cascade of missteps and a populist backlash that’s by no means reached its peak yet.

More broadly, the entire project of liberal internationalism that’s guided the affairs of the industrial world since the Berlin Wall came down is in deep trouble. It’s been enormously profitable for the most affluent twenty percent or so of the industrial world’s population, which is doubtless a core reason why that same twenty percent insists so strenuously that no other options are possible, but it’s been an ongoing disaster for the other eighty percent or so, and they are beginning to make their voices heard.

At the heart of the liberal project was the insistence that economics should trump politics – that the free market should determine policy in most matters, leaving governments only an administrative function. Of course that warm and cozy abstraction “the free market” meant in practice the kleptocratic corporate socialism of too-big-to-fail banks and subsidy-guzzling multinationals, which proceeded to pursue their own short-term benefit so recklessly that they’ve driven entire countries into the ground. That’s brought about the inevitable backlash, and the proponents of liberal internationalism are discovering to their bafflement that if enough of the electorate is driven to the wall, the political sphere may just end up holding the Trump card after all.

And of course the same bafflement is on display in the wake of last month’s presidential election, as a great many people who embraced our domestic version of the liberal internationalist idea were left dumbfounded by its defeat at the hands of the electorate – not just by those who voted for Donald Trump, but also by the millions who stayed home and drove Democratic turnout in the 2016 election down to levels disastrously low for Hillary Clinton’s hopes. A great many of the contortions mentioned above have been driven by the conviction on the part of Clinton’s supporters that their candidate’s defeat was caused by a rejection of the ideals of contemporary American liberalism. That some other factor might have been involved is not, at the moment, something many of them are willing to hear.

That’s where the repeating pattern comes in, because movements for social change – whether they come from the grassroots or the summits of power – are subject to certain predictable changes, and if those changes aren’t recognized and countered in advance, they lead to the kind of results I’ve just been discussing. There are several ways to talk about those changes, but the one I’d like to use here unfolds, in a deliberately quirky way, from the Hegelian philosophy of history.

That probably needs an explanation, and indeed an apology, because Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel has been responsible for more sheer political stupidity than any other thinker of modern times. Across the bloodsoaked mess that was the twentieth century, from revolutionary Marxism in its opening years to Francis Fukuyama’s risible fantasy of the End of History (1992) in its closing, where you found Hegelian political philosophy, you could be sure that someone was about to make a mistaken prediction.

It may not be entirely fair to blame Hegel personally for this. His writings and lectures are vast heaps of cloudy abstraction in which his students basically had to chase down inkblot patterns of their own making. Hegel’s great rival Arthur Schopenhauer used to insist that Hegel was a deliberate fraud, stringing together meaningless sequences of words in the hope that his readers would mistake obscurity for profundity, and more than once – especially when slogging through the murky prolixities of Hegel’s The Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) – I’ve suspected that the old grouch of Frankfurt was right. Still, we can let that pass, because a busy industry of Hegelian philosophers spent the last century and a half churning out theories of their own based, to one extent or another, on Hegel’s vaporings, and it’s this body of work that most people mean when they talk about Hegelian philosophy.

At the core of most Hegelian philosophies of history is a series of words that used to be famous, and still has a certain cachet in some circles: thesis, antithesis, synthesis. (Hegel himself apparently never used those terms in their later sense, but no matter.) That’s the three-step dance to the music of time that, in the Hegelian imagination, shapes human history. You’ve got one condition of being, or state of human consciousness, or economic system, or political system, or what have you; it infallibly generates its opposite; the two collide, and then there’s a synthesis which resolves the initial contradiction. Then the synthesis becomes a thesis, generates its own antithesis, a new synthesis is born, and so on.

One of the oddities about Hegelian philosophies of history is that, having set up this repeating process, their proponents almost always insist that it’s about to stop forever. In the full development of the Marxist theory of history, for example, the alternation of thesis-antithesis-synthesis starts with the primordial state of primitive communism and then chugs merrily, or rather far from merrily, through a whole series of economic systems, until finally true communism appears – and then that’s it; it’s the synthesis that never becomes a thesis and never conjures up an antithesis. In exactly the same way, Fukuyama’s theory of the end of history argued that all history until 1991 or so was a competition between different systems of political economy, of which liberal democratic capitalism and totalitarian Marxism were the last two contenders; capitalism won, Marxism lost, game over.

Now of course that’s part of the reason that Hegelianism so reliably generates false predictions, because in the real world it’s never game over; there’s always another round to play. There’s another dimension of Hegelian mistakenness, though, because the rhythm of the dialectic implies that the gains of one synthesis are never lost. Each synthesis becomes the basis for the next struggle between thesis and antithesis out of which a new synthesis emerges – and the new synthesis is always supposed to embody the best parts of the old.

This is where we move from orthodox Hegelianism to the quirky alternative I have in mind. It didn’t emerge out of the profound ponderings of serious philosophers of history in some famous European university. It first saw the light in a bowling alley in suburban Los Angeles, and the circumstances of its arrival – which, according to the traditional account, involved the miraculous appearance of a dignified elderly chimpanzee and the theophany of a minor figure from Greek mythology – suggest that prodigious amounts of drugs were probably involved.

Yes, we’re talking about Discordianism.

I’m far from sure how many of my readers are familiar with that phenomenon, which exists somewhere on the ill-defined continuum between deadpan put-on and serious philosophical critique. The short form is that it was cooked up by a couple of young men on the fringes of the California Beat scene right as that was beginning its mutation into the first faint adumbrations of the hippie phenomenon. Its original expression was the Principia Discordia¬†(1963), the scripture (more or less) of a religion (more or less) that worships (more or less) Eris, the Greek goddess of chaos, and its central theme is the absurdity of belief systems that treat orderly schemes cooked up in the human mind as though these exist out there in the bubbling, boiling confusion of actual existence.
That may not seem like fertile ground for a philosophy of history, but the Discordians came up with one anyway, probably in mockery of the ultraserious treatment of Hegelian philosophy that was common just then in the Marxist-existentialist end of the Beat scene. Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson proceeded to pick up the Discordian theory of history and weave it into their tremendous satire of American conspiracy culture, the Illuminatus! trilogy (2012). That’s where I encountered it originally in the late 1970s; I laughed, and then paused and ran my fingers through my first and very scruffy adolescent beard, realizing that it actually made more sense than any other theory of history I’d encountered.

Here’s how it works. From the Discordian point of view, Hegel went wrong for two reasons. The first was that he didn’t know about the Law of Fives, the basic Discordian principle that all things come in fives, except when they don’t. Thus he left off the final two steps of the dialectical process: after thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, you get parenthesis, and then paralysis.

The second thing Hegel missed is that the synthesis is never actually perfect. It never succeeds wholly in resolving the conflict between thesis and antithesis; there are always awkward compromises, difficulties that are papered over, downsides that nobody figures out at the time, and so on. Thus it doesn’t take long for the synthesis to start showing signs of strain, and the inevitable response is to try to patch things up without actually changing anything that matters. The synthesis thus never has time to become a thesis and generate its own antithesis; it is its own antithesis, and ever more elaborate arrangements have to be put to work to keep it going despite its increasingly evident flaws; that’s the stage of parenthesis.

The struggle to maintain these arrangements, in turn, gradually usurps so much effort and attention that the original point of the synthesis is lost, and maintaining the arrangements themselves becomes too burdensome to sustain. That’s when you enter the stage of paralysis, when the whole shebang grinds slowly to a halt and then falls apart. Only after paralysis is total do you get a new thesis, which sweeps away the rubble and kickstarts the whole process into motion again.

There are traditional Discordian titles for these stages. The first, thesis, is the state of Chaos, when a group of human beings look out at the bubbling, boiling confusion of actual existence and decide to impose some kind of order on the mess. The second, antithesis, is the state of Discord, when the struggle to impose that order on the mess in question produces an abundance of equal and opposite reactions. The third, synthesis, is the state of Confusion, in which victory is declared over the chaos of mere existence, even though everything’s still bubbling and boiling merrily away as usual. The fourth, parenthesis, is the state of Consternation {*}, in which the fact that everything’s still bubbling and boiling merrily away as usual becomes increasingly hard to ignore. The fifth and final, paralysis, is the state of Moral Warptitude – don’t blame me, that’s what the Principia Discordia says – in which everything grinds to a halt and falls to the ground, and everyone stands around in the smoldering wreckage rubbing their eyes and wondering what happened.

{*} Yes, I know, Robert Anton Wilson called the last two stages Bureaucracy and Aftermath. He was a heretic. So is every other Discordian, for that matter.

Let’s apply this to the liberal international order that emerged in the wake of the Soviet Union’s fall, and see how it fits. Thesis, the state of Chaos, was the patchwork of quarrelsome nations into which our species has divided itself, which many people of good will saw as barbarous relics of a violent past that should be restrained by a global economic order. Antithesis, the state of Discord, was the struggle to impose that order by way of trade agreements and the like, in the teeth of often violent resistance – the phrase “WTO Seattle” may come to mind here. Synthesis, the state of Confusion, was the self-satisfied cosmopolitan culture that sprang up among the affluent twenty percent or so of the industrial world’s population, who became convinced that the temporary ascendancy of policies that favored their interests was not only permanent but self-evidently right and just.

Parenthesis, the state of Consternation, was the decades-long struggle to prop up those policies despite the disastrous economic consequences [1} those policies inflicted on everyone but the affluent. Finally, paralysis, the state of Moral Warptitude, sets in when populist movements, incensed by the unwillingness of the twenty percent to consider anyone else’s needs but their own, surge into the political sphere and bring the entire project to a halt. It’s worth noting here that the title “moral warptitude” may be bad English, but it’s a good description for the attitude of believers in the synthesis toward the unraveling of their preferred state of affairs. It’s standard, as just noted, for those who benefit from the synthesis to become convinced that it’s not merely advantageous but also morally good, and to see the forces that overthrow it as evil incarnate; this is simply another dimension of their Confusion.

Am I seriously suggesting that the drug-soaked ravings of a bunch of goofy California potheads provide a better guide to history than the serious reflections of Hegelian philosophers? Well, yes, actually, I am. Given the track record of Hegelian thought when it comes to history, a flipped coin is a better guide – use a coin, and you have a fifty percent better chance of being right. Outside of mainstream macroeconomic theory, it’s hard to think of a branch of modern thought that so consistently turns out false answers once it’s applied to the real world.

No doubt there are more respectable models that also provide a clear grasp of what happens to most movements for social change – the way they lose track of the difference between achieving their goals and pursuing their preferred strategies, and generally end up opting for the latter; the way that their institutional forms become ends in themselves, and gradually absorb the effort and resources that would otherwise have brought about change; the way that they run to extremes, chase off potential and actual supporters, and then busy themselves coming up with increasingly self-referential explanations for the fact that the only tactics they’re willing to consider are those that increase their own marginalization in the wider society, and so on. It’s a familiar litany, and will doubtless become even more familiar in the years ahead.

For what it’s worth, though, it’s not necessary for the two additional steps of the post-Hegelian dialectic, the fourth and fifth sides of his imaginary triangle, to result in the complete collapse of everything that was gained in the first three steps. It’s possible to surf the waves of Consternation and Moral Warptitude – but it’s not easy. Next week, we’ll explore this further, by circling back to the place where this blog began, and having a serious talk about how the peak oil movement failed.


In other news, I’m delighted to report that Retrotopia, which originally appeared here as a series of posts, is now in print in book form and available for sale {2}. I’ve revised and somewhat expanded Peter Carr’s journey to the Lakeland Republic, and I hope it meets with the approval of my readers.

Also from Founders House, the first issue of the new science fiction and fantasy quarterly MYTHIC has just been released. Along with plenty of other lively stories, it’s got an essay of mine on the decline and revival of science fiction, and a short story, “The Phantom of the Dust”, set in the same fictive universe as my novel The Weird of Hali: Innsmouth (2016), and pitting Owen Merrill and sorceress Jenny Chaudronnier against a sinister mystery from colonial days. Subscriptions and single copies can be ordered at {3}.


John Michael Greer is Past Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America {4}, current head of the Druidical Order of the Golden Dawn {5}, and the author of more than thirty books on a wide range of subjects, including peak oil and the future of industrial society. He lives in Cumberland, Maryland, an old red brick mill town in the north central Appalachians, with his wife Sara.

If you enjoy this blog and can handle discussions of Druidry, magic, and occult philosophy, you might like my other blog, Well of Galabes {6}.








Categories: Uncategorized

Pearl Harbor

It’s Taken 75 Years for the Truth to Emerge

The Scapegoating of the Military Leaders at Pearl Harbor

WhoWhatWhy (December 07 2016)

There has been a lot of loose talk lately about news reporting that should be factual and truthful, particularly with respect to political and geopolitical events. The Kennedy assassination and 9/11 are two contemporary examples where the search for the truth has consumed the lives of so many who cared deeply about the facts.

Anthony Summers has studied and written about both 9/11 and the JFK murder. Now, together with his partner Robbyn Swan, he turns his focus to the events at Pearl Harbor, 75 years ago.

Pearl Harbor was the deadliest attack against the US before 9/11 as 2,403 men perished on that day in 1941.

Immediately following the attack, President Franklin D Roosevelt established a commission to go to Hawaii and try and find out what happened. Summers finds however, there is more blame in Washington than in Hawaii – the Chief of Naval Operations Harold Stark, and even the esteemed and revered General George Marshall.

Summers and Swan also believe that Admiral Husband Kimmel and the Army’s Hawaiian commander Lieutenant General Walter Short were unfairly forced into retirement and scapegoated for the event.

There is lots more to learn as WhoWhatWhy’s Jeff Schechtman talks with Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan.

As a service to our readers, we provide transcripts with our podcasts. We try to ensure that these transcripts do not include errors. However, due to a constraint of resources, we are not always able to proofread them as closely as we would like and hope that you will excuse any errors that slipped through.

Full Text Transcript:

Jeff Schechtman: Welcome to Radio WhoWhatWhy, I’m Jeff Schechtman.

75 years ago the nation suffered what had been prior to 9/11, the worst attack on its shores. Not surprisingly, the events surrounding that attack on Pearl Harbor have been for 75 years the subject of almost endless debate, speculation, and blame. Understanding history is never perfect. The rearview mirror is not always clear. But in their new book on the events surrounding Pearl Harbor, historian and journalist, Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan, come as close as possible. Anthony Summers is the author of nine previous books including The 11th Day (2011), which was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for history. Summers has traveled worldwide for the BBC. He was deputy editor of their flagship program Panorama and his books have been the basis for major television documentaries. Robbyn Swan is the author of four previous books with Anthony Summers. She worked as a researcher for John le Carre and has written for Salon, National Journal, The Daily Telegraph, and has contributed to documentaries for PBS and the History Channel. It is my pleasure to welcome Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan to talk about their new book A Matter of Honor: Pearl Harbor, Betrayal, Blame, and a Family’s Quest for Justice (2016). Anthony Summers, Robbyn Swan, thanks so much for joining us on Radio WhoWhatWhy.

Anthony Summer & Robbyn Swan: Thank you.

Jeff: Anthony, I want to start with you. Your last book focused on the events surrounding 9/11. Talk a little bit about the nexus between 9/11 and the work you did looking back on what happened at Pearl Harbor.

Anthony: We have covered both 9/11 and Pearl Harbor because there are likenesses, great events like that, arrived with an enormous noise, news noise, and within administrations, counterclaim and claim. And they go from the very beginning, what really happened is fuzzy at the edges, unclear and then an artificial clarity is created and the key one we found in this case is that blame was placed on the commanders in Hawaii, the US commanders-in-chief in Hawaii early on. And this was not fair. They wanted, they needed to scapegoat, what one Navy administrator described years later as, “unnecessary scapegoat”. And a lot of the focus of our work over the last year or so has been trying to determine to what extent it was fair or not fair to blame the commanders on the spot.

Jeff: When one looks at that and the focus that was placed on Admiral Kimmel who was, as you say, the scapegoat who took the bulk of the blame for the events, was it because there was an effort to find a scapegoat or because the immediacy of events at the time pointed in that direction?

Robbyn: Well, as you say, I think it was partially the immediacy issue. Right after the attack there was a lot of finger-pointing, but there was also a need to bring the country together and to move on. And the commission that was hastily formed by President Roosevelt, who was himself under attack for getting the US “into a war” that he had promised not to get into – made Kimmel and Short out there in Hawaii, and as the military commanders on the scene, the natural place to staunch the flow of blood from the top.

We need to get this investigation finished and then we need to move forward as a country. And we need to keep the commanders in place. We cannot sacrifice Kimmel and Short, but also sacrifice our chief of naval operations, our chief of staff, and other senior ranking officers. So we must stop here. We must get on with the war effort.

Jeff: Talk a little bit, Anthony, about where Roosevelt was looking to place blame.

Anthony: I don’t think Roosevelt sat in the White House and said “blame Naval Commander Admiral Kimmel and Army Commander in Hawaii General Short. It wasn’t like that. But he did appoint a presidential commission and send them to Hawaii to find out what happened. From the start that was an unbalanced way to go about it because all the answers were not in Hawaii. Many of the answers were in fact in Washington where there had been what we determined over the last couple of years of delving into tens of thousands of records, that there had been gross inefficiencies in the naval headquarters in Washington. I don’t think he gave a brief at all to go and find Kimmel and Short totally to blame for the problem. But his order was to go and find out who was to blame. And the commission went to Hawaii and did most of its investigating in Hawaii, and surprise, surprise, the blame was placed in Hawaii.

Robbyn: As a small example, Jeff, the witness testimony, so to speak, that was collected in Washington was done in sort of an ever so chummy fashion. Not under oath, by and large, groups of men meeting with the commission, sort of hashing out what they had done. In Hawaii, by contrast, men were brought in one at a time in a very adversarial courtroom-like situation without representation and grilled over their behavior under oath. So, two completely different setups give you an idea of the different tone and the different direction the evidence gathering took in each of those places.

Anthony: And officers have rights at a court-martial. This was not a court-martial. No charges were laid as such. But they were used to the idea that they would have their rights in the same way that a civilian would have rights in a civilian court in the United States. But they weren’t allowed to have an attorney or a federal officer representing them, and indeed Admiral Kimmel who was not a man subject to hysteria, I mean, he’s a very level-headed naval officer, came out at one point and said to somebody in the anteroom to the hearing in Hawaii, “What are they trying to do, crucify me?” That was the atmosphere.

Jeff: There were numerous reports that were done, numerous commissions that were set up over time to look into this. Talk about that.

Robbyn: Well, Admiral Kimmel really pushed for court-martial. So did General Short while he lived. They wanted the chance to clear their name. On the other side of that we had the fact that Roosevelt’s enemies kept using the Pearl Harbor issue repeatedly as a political blunt instrument to get at him, and that he himself was personally responsible in some way for the severity of the attack. They were pushing for further investigation. These two elements marching forward through the 1940s meant that there was a real push for investigation. At the same time, there were secrets being kept. Secrets that would have affected the war effort, had they come out. So there was this constant tension between the two, when and where it would be appropriate to have an investigation. What could be said. How much could be made public. In the end, there were nine official inquiries, after the initial investigation by the Roberts Commission that made the terrible charges against Kimmel and Short. There were subsequently Navy and Army courts of inquiry. The Navy court of inquiry, a panel of three admirals, found that Admiral Kimmel had behaved responsibly throughout, that there had been no dereliction in his part. Unfortunately, that was kept secret. Later, there were some opinions, some endorsements added to that by the secretary of the Navy, and the chief of naval operations, that were very harsh, and took a very harsh tone towards Kimmel. And that was eventually publicly released. And then later, after that, there was a very large congressional inquiry, a joint congressional inquiry, both House and Senate participation in 1945, and going into 1946. And that gave Kimmel the opportunity to speak publicly, air much of the case he could make, that he had not been properly informed of various key issues, and make his case for the defense. But by then his reputation had been so tarnished, it was not really possible to clear himself, to clear his name.

Jeff: Talk a little bit about the attitude in Washington, as there were from time to time, fingers that were pointed directly at Roosevelt.

Anthony: Roosevelt was, if not king, he was interested and in favor of joining in the war against the Nazis. He wanted on the other hand to fend off war in the Pacific. He didn’t want to be fighting on two fronts at once, so his natural position was to support basically the British in against the Nazis in the Atlantic, during the Atlantic war, and to hope that war would not break out anytime soon in the Pacific. The people, and large body of the Congress in Washington, were absolutely against the war. They were called the isolationists. And when Pearl Harbor happened, and immediately as the obvious reaction, war had to be declared against Japan. And within a couple of days, we were at war with Germany as well. There were accusations that started, rumbles, rumors started to build up and up and have lasted down the years so they become not a fact, but sort of accepted public rumor that Roosevelt had known in advance, had had some foreknowledge, possibly shared with Winston Churchill, that the Japanese were going to attack Pearl Harbor, but because Roosevelt wanted to get into the war, so went the rumor, he had allowed the attack to go ahead. We have really dug deep into those accusations and found them completely baseless.

Jeff: Talk a little bit about the chief of naval operations, Harold Stark, and his role in all of this.

Robbyn: Well, Harold Stark had been one of Admiral Kimmel’s closest friends in the Navy. And when Kimmel was appointed, Stark wrote to him and told him how happy he was that he was going to have someone with Kimmel’s can-do attitude in the post, commander-in-chief of the Pacific, and the nominal head of the entire fleet. But Stark had some flaws as an administrator. He was on all accounts, a very diplomatic man. Very intelligent man. In many ways, a kindly grandfather-type. His men thought he was a man of great honor and of personal integrity. And I don’t, to a great extent, doubt that. He did seem to be that. However, he tended to waffle. He would say one thing in a letter and then several paragraphs later say another.

Anthony: He was a [bumbler?].

Robbyn: A warning might go out, and in the next paragraph he would draw it back. He was also administering a department that had within it, some very forceful personalities. In particular his chief of war plan, Admiral Turner, who really was allowed to have too much influence over what information was sent to the fleet during 1941, and very much constrained what information flowed from Washington out to the commanders in the field. And that bottleneck, if you will, had a real influence on the intelligence that they had in the Pacific, versus the intelligence they had at home.

Anthony: To get to the nut of that, there was a wealth of intelligence that was received in Washington at Naval headquarters that never got to Kimmel, that went nowhere in some cases. We report on documents that were never unearthed until now, a naval chart showing that ten months before the Japanese attack, US Naval intelligence had detailed evidence showing that aerial torpedoes could be successfully launched in water as shallow as that in the sharp end of Pearl Harbor. This was vital information to the men in the Pacific Coast because Pearl Harbor was extremely shallow. But a chart showing how the British had succeeded with aerial torpedoes in the same way that we now know the Japanese were going to, just seems to have been plain ignored, never passed on to Admiral Kimmel in Hawaii. And just as pertinently, they had intercepted messages sent to the Japanese spy base, to the consulate in Hawaii, early on in September, three or four months before the attack, asking him to send detailed information on which ships were in which parts of Pearl Harbor. It’s normal for navies to gather intelligence on a potential enemy’s harbors, but it is not normal to say where exactly is which battleship and where exactly is such and such an aircraft carrier in a harbor. What are their movements? What are their routines? When do they come and go? That sort of information is a strong pointer, especially if it’s not being asked about other harbors, is a strong pointer to the notion that the potential enemy is planning an attack. There was such information. It builds up over the weeks. There came a time when instead of having such reports once a week, the Japanese wanted reports on Pearl Harbor twice a week. This was key information that Admiral Kimmel should’ve been told, but it wasn’t shared with him.

Jeff: And what did General Marshall know?

Robbyn: Well, General Marshall, like everyone in Washington, was a recipient of the material known as Magic. Magic was the super secret code breaking plan under which the US had been able to break into the Japanese diplomatic codes. Particularly high levels of diplomatic codes called Purple. And Purple, was the code being used to transmit information between Tokyo and the ambassador in Washington, who was doing the peace negotiations. Now, everyone in Washington who was receiving that information, – and it was a very small group of about ten officers authorized to receive that – was seeing essentially what the Japanese intended to do, diplomatically before, almost before the Japanese themselves. Now, Admiral Kimmel had no access to that. That said, this intelligence did not contain the plans for the attack on Pearl Harbor. But amongst the intelligence that the Magic program gleaned, there were tidbits that did give a clue, such as the request to the spy in Tokyo for the grid layout and the position of ships and harbor. There were those kinds of teasers. Unfortunately, that Magic program was being very poorly handled. Not only were there only ten men seeing the material, but those ten men, because of the need for secrecy, they were seeing individual decryptions of messages one at a time. They were then taken away. They couldn’t make notes. The information was burned. They weren’t allowed to talk about it. So you had a situation where you are getting all this wonderful data, but you were seeing it only one sliver at a time. As one analyst later described it, “They were looking at the individual pictures but nobody was putting together the movie”. And so, all that wonderful intelligence was in many ways squandered before Pearl Harbor. And General Marshall was one of those who was seeing that, and not seeing it, if you will. So in that sense, Marshall, like other senior officials who saw that, bears responsibility.

Anthony: As Chief of Staff.

Robbyn: Exactly. On all of these questions, men don’t lower down the chain of command also bear responsibility for not doing, or not seeing. But in the military, this idea that the man in charge should be held to account, should’ve applied not just to Admiral Kimmel and to General Short, but to the men in Washington as well, to General Marshall and to Admiral Stark. And they were not really held accountable for the missteps made in Washington.

Anthony: We haven’t really touched quite in what we said so far on the ludicrous things this led to. At one point, they were so concerned with secrecy that the information, as Robbyn has said, became effectively useless. But there were ludicrous situations. The president, one might say “of course”, was one of the people permitted, one of the few people permitted to read Magic. But because one of his aides at some point had received a Magic report of a decoded message, and then it was found screwed up and thrown away in a trash basket at the White House – for a time the White House was completely cut off from the information, and then an officer would go along and read the text of the message and in front of the president and not let him keep anything, and require him just to remember it and then leave. And in the end in the last weeks, President Roosevelt, who realized rather belatedly, that this was a ridiculous situation, demanded that he get brought the text of these things again. But it was a sillly situation that continued week after week.

Robbyn: Kimmel and Short in Hawaii were accused of having been essentially asleep at the switch. There was a famous book, At Dawn We Slept (1982). Well, it wasn’t in Hawaii that people were asleep. In the month before the attack, in the final month, the people reading Magic, saw a series of messages saying, “We must solve this problem. There must be a peace negotiation that is concluded by a deadline.” “The deadline is November 25th”. “Oh, we will give you four more days. The deadline is November the 29th. After that it will be too late. Things will be, would have been put in motion that it will be too late to stop.” But no one reading those messages thought, “What is this motion?” “What are the Japanese doing that it will be too late to stop?” In the final day before the attack, there were a series of messages. “We are going to send you our final response to the latest peace proposal. The final proposal starts coming in. The final answers are coming in.” But the men in Washington acted as if it’s just another Saturday. People go home. They go to dinner. They go horseback riding. And they go to bed. And the messages come in overnight and there’s no one there immediately to translate them, and pass them on. So the final message saying, “You must deliver our final response to the Americans on these peace negotiations.” “It must be delivered specifically this time, 1 PM eastern time”. A message which everyone who sees, the message agree, there’s something that’s going to happen at that time. What is 1 PM? What does it mean elsewhere in the world? My God, that’s 7 AM in the Pacific. But no one is there immediately to handle that message because people are home in bed. Now, how can you blame Kimmel and Short for being asleep at the switch when those in Washington are just as asleep, and they’ve got so much more information to go on. So that crucial bit of information, when General Marshall finally sees it at 11 AM on Sunday, December 7, and writes a warning message, it’s only minutes before the attack begins. And the warning message he sends gets held up and is finally delivered to Pearl Harbor hours after the attack, when the men are lying dead, and Kimmel and Short are licking their wounds, trying to pull things together.

Jeff: Had Washington been more responsive within the timeframe that we’re talking about, what might’ve been different? What might’ve been done differently that could’ve forestalled the attack?

Anthony: In the context of what Robbyn was talking about, they lost virtually all of the night hours of December the 6th, and going into December the 7th. And then all the morning hours, while they discussed whether to send a warning message to the Pacific or not. If that message had been clear and had been transmitted to Kimmel and Short at the time it could’ve been transmitted, which would be very early in their morning, during their night, during the late-night hours, the reaction would’ve been that all the antiaircraft gunners would’ve been ready to fire. They did fire. The Navy guns did fire at the Japanese planes surprisingly quickly. So quickly that the Japanese commander afterwards said that the shock of surprise was almost negated by the swiftness, the efficiency of the naval response. But planes, the Army would’ve disbursed its planes. Reconnaissance planes would’ve been sent out. So many things that the Army or the Navy could jump to and realize that this is something was likely to come. Possibly going to come. The response would’ve been much better, much faster. As it was, they got the message from Washington. In the case of Kimmel, eight hours after the attack began. This is very largely, although there are some sinister things that we found out while working on this case, this is very largely a prime example, not of the conspiracy theory of history, but the screw-up theory of history. I mean two things are happening tomorrow. They will be unveiling a statute in here, in this town, with solemn ceremony, guns fired, [and] choirs. It’s where Admiral Kimmel grew up, and as he’s never been remembered, and its’ going to be, we think, a very good statue, actually one that looks like him, inaugurated to him. And the grandsons will be here, who are continuing the fight to get Kimmel’s four-star rank restored, which I think you know. If you looked at the end of the book, the last chapter is really the key to this area – that Congress in the year 2000 sent to then President Clinton, a recommendation that Kimmel be posthumously restored to his four-star rank, and that General Short, the army commander also be posthumously restored to the rank he held back then, the same top-rank he held back then. But no president has acted on it, and at the unveiling of the statue tomorrow, the two grandsons who’ve been continuing the fight, as their fathers did before them, will be publishing the letter they’ve written to President Obama, asking Obama to act on the congressional request to restore their rank before he leaves office.

Jeff: What is your sense, given that you’ve been following this for so long, what is your sense of how this is going to play out?

Anthony: Who knows in the present interregnum between Obama and Trump. On the other hand, presidents, this is not a question of pardoning these men, but as you know, in their last days in office, it’s traditional for presidents to take certain actions, to clear people, things that they decided in their grace and favor they will do. And one thing that would be very easy to do, certainly on paper, very easy to do because Congress has, both houses of Congress have voted for it, is to restore Kimmel posthumously to his four-star rank, which is what the family has been pressing for since the Admiral’s death in 1968. There’s been huge pressure for this. 36 – am I right, Robbyn? – 36 admirals of similar rank to Kimmel’s or senior, have themselves petitioned the past president, George H W Bush, for restoration of Kimmel’s rank. This has been going on, certainly since the 1990s.

Robbyn: There is a counter, which is the fact that the two, a portion blamed fairly, in Pearl Harbor’s case, means not that you have to actually point a finger of criticism at General Marshall, who – no greater hero has this country, almost – and Harold Stark, who was the architect of the D-Day invasion, he was instrumental in that and had many, many loyal friends in the Navy. By which I do not mean anything negative. I simply mean that there are good men on both sides of this, and to share the blame for Pearl Harbor fairly, they must shoulder some of the burden. And I think there is resistance to that, to the restoration of the ranks of Kimmel and Short simply because in turn people feel it means leveling that criticism at Marshall, Stark, Turner in particular, and others. And it’s true. It’s tragic. It does not in any way, I think, undermine what those men later did, or their contributions to the later war effort. But at least they were allowed to make those contributions. And Kimmel and Short were denied the opportunity to make further contributions to the war effort, which most agree they could’ve made.

Anthony: I would differ a bit there. While we can’t have a great debate on it now, I would differ with Robbyn. I think, yes of course, certainly years ago people would say, “Well this would besmirch chief of staff Marshall and Admiral Stark who went on, in spite of his bumbling at the time of Pearl Harbor, went on to distinguish himself as being in charge of the US Navy, part on D-Day in Europe and so on”. But they’re long gone. This is not, I don’t think, there’s any need to go, to be attacking chief of staff Marshall, or dragging Stark’s name through the mud. It is a matter of, I mean, Joe Biden, present Vice President, if you look on the last page or so of the coda at the end of the book, has called this the most tragic injustice in American military history. And it’s a question of righting that wrong. You can right the wrong done to Kimmel and Short without necessarily blasting away at the top brass in Washington who should’ve shared the blame.

Jeff: Anthony Summers, Robbyn Swan. The book is, A Matter of Honor: Pearl Harbor, Betrayal, Blame and a Family’s Quest for Justice. I thank you both so much for spending time with us.

Anthony & Robbyn: Thank you, Jeff.

Jeff: Thank you for listening and joining us here on Radio WhoWhatWhy. I hope you join us next week for another Radio WhoWhatWhy podcast, I’m Jeff Schechtman. If you like this podcast, please feel free to share and help others find it by rating and reviewing it on iTunes. You can also support this podcast and all the work we do by going to


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Categories: Uncategorized

Putin May Be an Authoritarian Asshole …

… But Americans Should ALSO Criticize Stupid US Policy

by Washingtons Blog (December 07 2016)

In launching the Iraq war and the war on terror, George Bush said “you’re either with us or against us”.

We now know that the entire justification for the Iraq War was false from the get-go. And Saddam Hussein – while an asshole and tyrant – did not pose a threat to the West.

So what about Americans (us included) who protested the Iraq War at the time? Were we – as loudly proclaimed by those pushing for war – “Saddam-lovers”, “apologists for Saddam” and “propagandists” for Iraq?

No, of course not … we were loyal Americans trying to stop a very stupid policy mistake that we knew would cause a lot of problems for Americans.

The same thing is true for the frothing-at-the-mouth warmongers and Putin …

Specifically, Putin is an authoritarian asshole. The Russian government spies on everyone, and cracks down on free speech. If someone living in Russia criticizes Putin, Lord only knows what would happen to them. I’m very grateful that I was born in America, and not Russia.

As we’ve previously noted:



Putin is certainly no saint. A former KGB agent, Putin’s net worth is estimated at some $40 billion dollars … as he has squeezed money out of the Russian economy by treating the country as his own personal fiefdom. And all sides appear to have dirt on their hands in the Russia-Ukraine crisis.



But knuckleheads who label all Americans who criticize US foreign policy towards Russia as “Putin-lovers” or “propagandists” for Russia are as bad as Bush during the Iraq War.

Indeed, it’s virtually the same numskulls pushing the McCarthyite “we’ve got to stop them, because there’s a Rooskie under every bush” nonsense who pushed the Iraq War.

Those of us who criticized the Iraq War before it started have been proven right. On the other hand, those trying to shut us up were wrong.

The same thing is true of the whole McCarthyite anti-Rooskie campaign. Those of us pointing out that US foreign policy towards Russia is stupid are trying to save America from further harm.

That’s what patriotism is all about …

Postscript. Those who love America are willing to criticize her actions when they are stupid:



It is not the function of our government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error.

– United States Supreme Court in American Communications Association vs Douds



Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country.

– Teddy Roosevelt



To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.

– Teddy Roosevelt



Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.

– Mark Twain



The citizen who sees his society’s democratic clothes being worn out and does not cry it out, is not a patriot, but a traitor.

– Mark Twain



All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.

– Thomas Jefferson



Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.

– Attributed to Thomas Jefferson (but not confirmed)



To stand in silence when they should be protesting makes cowards out of men.

– Abraham Lincoln



All that is necessary for the forces of evil to prevail in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.

– Edmund Burke, British statesman



Liberty has never come from government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of government. The history of liberty is a history of resistance. The history of liberty is a history of limitations of government power, not the increase of it.

– Woodrow Wilson



Those who are willing to trade freedom for security deserve neither freedom nor security.

– Benjamin Franklin



Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

– Dr Martin Luther King, Junior



History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.

– Dr Martin Luther King, Junior



Activism is the rent we pay for living on the planet.

– Alice Walker

Categories: Uncategorized

The Rules of the (Trump) Game

by Pepe Escobar

Sputnik International (December 05 2016)

General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, chosen by President-elect Donald Trump to be the new head of the Pentagon, is a model functionary of the Empire of Chaos. His call sign is – what else – “chaos” {1}. The Marine Corps Special Operations Command (“MARSOC”) even shared his regular accolade; “Saint Mattis of Quantico, Patron Saint of Chaos”. The Saint in his pop incarnation comes fully equipped with a grenade and a knife.

Mad Dog may indeed be seen by the real world as, well, a mad dog; he was on the front line of the 2001 assault on Afghanistan; led the Marine assault on Baghdad during Shock and Awe in 2003; and masterminded the horrendous American destruction of Fallujah in late 2004. Widely hailed as a fine strategist, he retired as chief of CENTCOM in 2013.

The Saint may have been a purveyor of chaos across the Cheney regime-coined “Greater Middle East” – something that came with inevitable collateral damage; his creeping Iranophobia. Yet the key to his appointment is that it will focus on rebuilding the US military.

William Hartung, at the Center for International Policy, notes how “Pentagon spending is one of the worst possible ways of creating jobs. Much of the money goes to service contractors, arms industry executives, and defense consultants (also known as ‘Beltway bandits’).” Moreover, “such spending is the definition of an economic dead end”. {2}

Criticizing Trumponomics as “Reaganomics on steroids” – and that includes vast military spending – Hartung stresses that if Donald Trump really wants to create jobs, “he should obviously pursue infrastructure investment rather than dumping vast sums into weapons the country doesn’t actually need at prices it can’t afford”.

To rebuild the appalling US infrastructure is one of the top Trump campaign promises.

What is to be done?

My aim with this column {3} was to launch a debate on the possible Leninist role of White House strategist Steve Bannon. Trump, like all US presidents, is obviously no Leninist. But his chief strategist does cultivate the Leninist notion of a proletariat vanguard; call it the Angry Older White American Blue Collar Male contingent; call it haters of identity liberalism, which elevated selected minorities to the status of sacred victims; or call it simply “deplorables”.

It’s this proletariat vanguard that Bannon aims to cultivate, so they lead/influence/shape policy for the foreseeable US political future, winning election after election for Republicans. They must imperatively benefit from Trump’s spun-to-death fight against neoliberal “free” trade, although it’s not clear exactly how he will privilege “in-sourcing” and not outsourcing – which is official US corporate policy. They certainly won’t benefit from a massive rebuilding of the Pentagon.

German political analyst Peter Spengler introduces a further spanner in the works, noting how Bannon, “like all scholars (or students for that matter) of Russia/Bolshevism has ignored what Kurt Riezler {4} could have and (would want to) unearth to them in his time in exile in New York: first-hand experience and knowledge about the continuum of subterraneous and subversive ‘diplomacy’ between Germany and Russia” in the run-up towards the October Revolution.

Bets are still off on what “subversive” diplomacy the Trump era will entail – apart from a 21st century remix of the Kissinger-orchestrated “Nixon in China” moment. That would take the form of a “Trump in Russia-China” moment – as in Washington starting to normalize the treatment of those nations the Pentagon ranks as its top two “existential threats”, global projection and spheres of influence included.

That contentious phone call to Trump “initiated” by Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen {5} certainly didn’t contribute to any normalization. And no one should expect that the Brzezinski-conceptualized US global primacy, especially over Eurasia – as in “prevent the emergence of peer competitors” – will simply fade away.

Pentagon Reborn

William Engdahl argues that the Brave New (Trump) World is all an elaborate deception {6}. A quick look at the lucky few chosen for Trump’s plutocrat cabinet does not exactly match the Better Angels of our Nature.

A New York business source, familiar with the Masters of the Universe, who actively supported the Trump program and called his election at least two weeks before the fact, offers a blunt assessment:



Donald is an insider. Most of the advisors Engdahl refers to are wallpaper. There are three important things to consider. (1) The Supreme Court will have conservative judges. (2) There will be a rapprochement with Russia. The tilt may not be as warm to China, but we will work on that. (3) None of the Masters care about Lenin, or Thomas Cromwell, or ideologies. They care about power and money.



As for a possible Leninist White House,



… if we want to quote Lenin, it is that truth is whatever advances the class struggle. Truth to the Masters is whatever advances their agenda. If they want the Federal Reserve to expand credit, then they look for a liberal if that works, or a conservative, or monetarist, or Keynesian, et cetera. One of them will support expansion of credit and those that don’t will be shunted aside. They don’t care about Milton Friedman, Keynes, Marx or Lenin. It is what works for them that counts. Hillary did not work so she is out. And Bannon will do what he is told like the rest of them. And if he gets in the way, he will be fired.



So no matter what California screams and shouts {7}, this is the stark way the Masters will be running Trumpland.

Which brings us, once again, to the rebuilding of the US military. Another business/investment source, who also actively supported the Trump economic plan during the campaign, stresses how



… the present power of the Russian military industrial complex is greater than the US in many senses. And all of it is in Russia whereas most of that of the US is farmed out to Asia.



Thus, “it is fortunate that Trump has come in as President to wind down this mad house that they call Washington. There is a consensus above the President that action must be done to rebuild the United States military on an emergency basis.” And that will be the Mad Dog’s top brief.

The source adds:



One easy way of repatriating all this industry at once is to set all defense contracts up with the stipulation that the entire plane, missile or tank must be made in the United States, thus requiring the massive repatriation of jobs and factories. That should be the first order of business at the White House under Trump as it does not require a tariff, or ending currency rigging.



Hold on, Yalta, We’re Coming

Meanwhile, there’s got to be some careful management of what the disgruntled neocon/neoliberalcon galaxy called the Trump-Putin “bromance”.

Trump will most certainly re-normalize Russia and work alongside Russia to smash the Salafi-jihadi dementia in Syria; the problem is to what degree Russia and China will be able to influence Trumpland not to turn Iran into high collateral damage. Russia-China-Iran is the key alliance invested in Eurasia integration.

“Grand Chessboard” Brzezinski cannot help himself from expounding the usual narcissistic absurdities, as in suggesting {8} the US helps Russia to “transit effectively” and become a “constructive, significant member of the global community” (it’s rather Moscow that may end up doing exactly that to Trump’s America).

At the same time, it’s no wonder even Brzezinski himself is now spinning:


America is needed to pull together some larger coalition that can deal with global problems. And in that larger coalition America, China and changing Russia could be preeminent.



“Changing” Russia in this case is code for a Russia that can be seduced, tamed and driven away from China. The key context; the Russia-China strategic partnership essentially points towards Eurasia as a vast, integrated emporium – the blending of China’s One Belt, One Road (“OBOR”) with Russia’s Eurasia Economic Union (“EEU”).

Brzezinski, reflecting and/or influencing neoliberalcon “values”, would rather reenact Divide and Rule and try to split Russia from China – while at the same time suggesting that Trump can’t afford to be left out of the massive (Eurasia) action; there’s gotta be some sort of deal. Stay tuned for the terms of a possible upgrade; from Yalta in 1945 to … a Yalta remix in 2017?










Categories: Uncategorized

The End of the Indispensable Nation

by Fran Shor

CounterPunch (December 05 2016)



This is the end, my only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end.

– Jim Morrison, The Doors



The ascension of Donald Trump to the imperial presidency marks the nadir of the declension of the United States as the global hegemon. While Trump’s fantasies about “making America great again” do not explicitly rely on promoting the US as the “indispensable nation”, they, nonetheless, deploy strategies to resurrect the fossil fuel driven expansion of the military industrial state that marked the post-World War Two period of US global dominance. That period suffered its initial setback in the early 1970s with the loss of the war in Southeast Asia, the OPEC oil shock, and the elimination of the gold standard.

An attempt to staunch that decline through financialization, corporate globalization, and neoliberal foreign and domestic policies took another hit with the economic crises of 2008. However, the precipitous decline in pre-eminence of the production of manufactured goods from a high point of sixty percent in 1950 to about 25 percent at the end of the twentieth century cannot be halted by the kind of flim-flam tax breaks by Trump and Indiana to industrial manufacturers like Carrier and its parent company, United Technologies, the billion dollar Pentagon profiteering corporation. Although the United States had dominated industrial production in electronics and electrical equipment at mid-century, by the beginning of the twenty-first century, non-US corporations occupied nine out of the top ten positions. Even in the banking sector, nineteen of the top twenty-five banks in the world were located outside the United States.

While the dollar still remains the primary reserve currency in the world (with growing challenges by Russia and China to the dollar), the recent massive international financial failures are a direct result of the financialization that was promoted by US interests from the 1970s onward and continue to play an outsized role in policies of the federal government irrespective of which party is in power. As a consequence of those toxic financial arrangements, uprisings against the banksters in various countries, from Iceland to Latvia, Greece to Martinique, had led to challenges to the flawed logic of US-dominated financialization.

The national security and warfare state that Trump wants to prop up is incapable of subduing the very chaos that it contributes to around the globe. As prophetically noted by French critic Emmanuel Todd at the start of the Iraq War in 2003:



the United States is pretending to remain the world’s indispensable superpower by attacking insignificant adversaries. But this America – a militaristic, agitated, uncertain, anxious country projecting its own disorder around the globe – is hardly the indispensable nation it claims to be and is certainly not what the rest of the world really needs now. (After the Empire, page xviii)



Trump’s intended employment of generals (Flynn, Mattis, and maybe Petraeus) associated with the debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan suggest at best an arrested development of that warfare state. In his trenchant criticism of the military brass in books and articles, Andrew Bacevich has emphatically highlighted the failures of Washington’s war machine, a machine that has little hope of repair even with the hypermilitarism of the ruling Republican Party. As Bacevich contends in The Limits of Power (2009):



How is it that our widely touted post-Cold War military supremacy has produced not enhanced security but the prospect of open-ended conflict? Why is it that when we flex our muscles on behalf of peace and freedom (sic), the world beyond our borders becomes all the more cantankerous and disorderly”. (page 156)



While Trump appears to be drawing back from the confrontation promoted by Obama and Clinton with Russia, he has not hesitated to encourage aggressive postures towards China, Iran, and Cuba. It is hard to imagine that a Trump presidency would not embrace the kind of imperial policies and gestures that continue to make the US an outlier in the international community. Moreover, as Eric Hobsbawm has argued in On Empire (2008):



There is no prospect of a return to the imperial world of the past, let alone the prospect of a lasting global hegemony, unprecedented in history, by a single state, such as America, however great its military force. The age of empires is dead. We shall have to find another way of organizing the globalized world of the twenty-first century. (page 25)



The xenophobic and racist nationalism embodied by Trump cannot avoid pronouncements and policies that generate arrogance and aggression towards people of color around the world and in the US. An “America that continues to relate to the world by a unilateral assertion that it represents civilization”, opines Immanuel Wallerstein in The Decline of American Power (2003),



cannot live in peace with the world, and therefore will not live in peace with itself … Can the land of liberty and privilege, even amidst its decline, learn to be a land that treats everyone everywhere as equals? (page 215)



It is clear from Trump’s assertion that a wall will still be built on the Mexican border with a US, even in the face of diminishing numbers that have any desire or need to enter the country, that he, and many of his followers, are fearful and paranoid about the hordes of brown-skinned others. But as Barbara Kingsolver observes in Small Wonder (2002) about the metaphoric wall spawned by imperial and narcissistic enclosures:



The writing has been on the wall for some years now, but we are a nation illiterate in the language of the wall. The writing just gets bigger. Something will eventually bring down the charming, infuriating naivete of Americans that allows our blithe consumption¬†and cheerful ignorance of the secret ugliness that bring us whatever we want”. (pages 262-3)



Everywhere that US nationalism and imperialism will try to build walls growing bands of insurgents, migrants, and miscreants will undoubtedly scale those walls. Identifying with those who seek to tear down such walls, let us recall the lyrics of a song by Los Lobos, that driving rock band from East Los Angeles:



Some day that wall will tumble and fall
And the sun will shine that day.



For that day to come, however, acts of intervention must be undertaken. As stated eloquently by Rebecca Solnit in Hope in the Dark 2004):



Blind faith faces a blank wall waiting for a door in it to open … The great liberation movements hacked doorways into walls”. (pages 13-14)

Categories: Uncategorized

The Mafia State

by Chris Hedges

Truthdig (December 04 2016)

Systems of governance that are seized by a tiny cabal become mafia states. The early years – Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton in the United States – are marked by promises that the pillage will benefit everyone. The later years – George W Bush and Barack Obama – are marked by declarations that things are getting better even though they are getting worse. The final years – Donald Trump – see the lunatic trolls, hedge fund parasites, con artists, conspiracy theorists and criminals drop all pretense and carry out an orgy of looting and corruption.

The rich never have enough. The more they get, the more they want. It is a disease. CEOs demand and receive pay that is 200 times what their workers earn. And even when corporate executives commit massive fraud, such as the billing of hundreds of thousands of Wells Fargo customers for accounts they never opened, they elude punishment and personally profit. Disgraced CEO John Stumpf left Wells Fargo with a pay package that averages nearly $15 million a year. Richard Fuld received nearly half a billion dollars from 1993 to 2007, a time in which he was bankrupting Lehman Brothers.

The list of financial titans, including Trump, who have profited from a rigged financial system and fraud is endless. Many in the one percent make money by using lobbyists and bought politicians to write self-serving laws and rules and by forming unassailable monopolies. They push up prices on products or services these monopolies provide. Or they lend money to the 99 percent and charge exorbitant interest. Or they use their control of government and the courts to ship jobs to Mexico or China, where wages can be as low as 22 cents an hour, and leave American workers destitute. Neoliberalism is state-sponsored extortion. It is a vast, nationally orchestrated Ponzi scheme.

This fevered speculation and mounting inequality, made possible by the two ruling political parties, corroded and destroyed the mechanisms and institutions that permitted democratic participation and provided some protection for workers. Politicians, from Reagan on, were handsomely rewarded by their funders for delivering their credulous supporters to the corporate guillotine. The corporate coup created a mafia capitalism. This mafia capitalism, as economists such as Karl Polanyi and Joseph Stiglitz warned, gave birth to a mafia political system. Financial and political power in the hands of institutions such as Goldman Sachs and the Clinton Foundation becomes solely about personal gain. The Obamas in a few weeks will begin to give us a transparent lesson into how service to the corporate state translates into personal enrichment.

Adam Smith wrote that profits are often highest in nations on the verge of economic collapse. These profits are obtained, he wrote, by massively indebting the economy. A rentier class, composed of managers at hedge funds, banks, financial firms and other companies, makes money not by manufacturing products but from the control of economic rents. To increase profits, lenders, credit card companies and others charge higher and higher interest rates. Or they use their monopolies to gouge the public. The pharmaceutical company Mylan, in a classic example, raised the price of an epinephrine auto-injector used to treat allergy reactions from $57 in 2007 to about $500.

These profits are counted as economic growth. But this is a fiction, a sleight of hand, like unemployment statistics or the consumer price index, used to mask the speculative shell game.

“The head of Goldman Sachs came out and said that Goldman Sachs workers are the most productive in the world”, the economist Michael Hudson told me. “That’s why they’re paid what they are. The concept of productivity in America is income divided by labor. So if you’re Goldman Sachs and you pay yourself $20 million a year in salary and bonuses, you’re considered to have added $20 million to GDP, and that’s enormously productive.”

“We’re talking with tautology”, said Hudson, the author of Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy (2015). “We’re talking with circular reasoning here. So the issue is whether Goldman Sachs, Wall Street and predatory pharmaceutical firms actually add product or whether they’re just exploiting other people. That’s why I used the word ‘parasites’ in my book’s title. People think of a parasite as simply taking money, taking blood out of a host or taking money out of the economy. But in nature it’s much more complicated. The parasite can’t simply come in and take something. First of all, it needs to numb the host. It has an enzyme so that the host doesn’t realize the parasite’s there. And then the parasites have another enzyme that takes over the host’s brain. It makes the host imagine that the parasite is part of its own body, actually part of itself and hence to be protected. That’s basically what Wall Street has done. It depicts itself as part of the economy. Not as a wrapping around it, not as external to it, but actually the part that’s helping the body grow, and that actually is responsible for most of the growth. But in fact it’s the parasite that is taking over the growth.”

“The result is an inversion of classical economics”, Hudson said. “It turns Adam Smith upside down. It says what the classical economists said was unproductive parasitism actually is the real economy. And that the parasites are labor and industry that get in the way of what the parasite wants, which is to reproduce itself, not help the host, that is, labor and capital.”

The established elites dislike Trump because he is gauche, vulgar and boorish. He is not part of the refined group of mandarins trained to become plutocrats in Ivy League universities and business schools. He never mastered the cloying patina of refinement and carefully calibrated rhetoric of our courtier class.

Trump and his coterie of half-wits, criminals, racists and deviants play the role of the Snopes clan in William Faulkner’s novels The Hamlet (1940), The Town (1957) and The Mansion (1959). The Snopeses rose up out of the power vacuum of the decayed South and ruthlessly seized control from the degenerated aristocratic elites. Flem Snopes and his extended family – which includes a killer, a pedophile, a bigamist, an arsonist, a mentally disabled man who copulates with a cow, and a relative who sells tickets to witness the bestiality – are fictional representations of the scum we have elevated to the highest level of the federal government. They embody the ethos of modern capitalism Faulkner warned us against.

“The usual reference to ‘amorality’, while accurate, is not sufficiently distinctive and by itself does not allow us to place them, as they should be placed, in a historical moment”, the critic Irving Howe wrote of the Snopeses. “Perhaps the most important thing to be said is that they are what comes afterwards: the creatures that emerge from the devastation, with the slime still upon their lips.

“Let a world collapse, in the South or Russia, and there appear figures of coarse ambition driving their way up from beneath the social bottom, men to whom moral claims are not so much absurd as incomprehensible, sons of bushwhackers or muzhiks drifting in from nowhere and taking over through the sheer outrageousness of their monolithic force”, Howe wrote. “They become presidents of local banks and chairmen of party regional committees, and later, a trifle slicked up, they muscle their way into Congress or the Politburo. Scavengers without inhibition, they need not believe in the crumbling official code of their society; they need only learn to mimic its sounds.”

The Snopes-like mentality of our president-elect is portrayed in a documentary movie, The Queen of Versailles (2012), about another sleazy developer. The film, by Lauren Greenfield, chronicles the tawdry and insatiable greed of David Siegel and his ditzy trophy wife, Jackie, who is three decades younger, and their quest to build one of the largest private residences in the United States, a 90,000-square-foot mansion modeled after Versailles. Siegel and his wife, who once dated Trump, are fervent Trump supporters. Siegel, like Trump, is a barely literate philistine. He, like the president-elect, sponsored beauty pageants, was accused of sexual assault, made his money through high-pressure sales tactics and had access to hundreds of millions in bank loans. And he, like Trump, uses bankruptcy or the threat of bankruptcy to protect his wealth. And like our next president he has a volatile and vicious temper.

“The great Roman historians Livy and Plutarch blamed the decline of the Roman Empire on the creditor class being predatory, and the latifundia”, Hudson said. “The creditors took all the money, and would just buy more and more land, displacing the other people. The result in Rome was a dark age, and that can last a very long time. The dark age is what happens when the rentiers take over.

“If you look back in the 1930s, Leon Trotsky said that fascism was the inability of the socialist parties to come forth with an alternative”, Hudson said. “If the socialist parties and media don’t come forth with an alternative to this neofeudalism, you’re going to have a rollback to feudalism. But instead of the military taking over the land, as occurred with the Norman Conquest, you take over the land financially. Finance has become the new mode of warfare.”

“You can achieve the takeover of land and the takeover of companies by corporate raids”, he said. “The Wall Street vocabulary is one of conquest and wiping out. You’re having a replay in the financial sphere of what feudalism was in the military sphere.”

What comes next, history has shown, will not be pleasant. A cruel and morally bankrupt elite, backed by the organs of state security and law enforcement, will, as the Eupatridae did in sixth-century-BC Athens, bankrupt the citizenry through state-sponsored theft, war, austerity and debt peonage. They will reduce workers to the status of serfs or slaves. The most benign dissent will be criminalized and crushed. America’s Snopes-like elites have no external or internal constraints. They are barbarians. We will remove them from power or enter a new dark age.

(c) 2016 Truthdig, LLC. All rights reserved.

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The Dangerous Deception …

… Called the Trump Presidency

by F William Engdahl

New Eastern Outlook (November 05 2016)

The project called the Trump Presidency has just two months before its formal beginning. Yet already the hopes and fantasies of much of the world are making him into something and someone Donald Trump most definitely is not. Donald Trump is yet another project of the same boring old patriarchs who try again and again to create a one world order that they control absolutely, a New World Order that one close Trump backer once referred to as universal fascism. Ignore the sometimes fine rhetoric in some of his speeches. Talk is cheap. If we consider rather the agenda that’s taking form even in these very early days of cabinet naming, we can see that Donald Trump is the same agenda of war and global empire as Obama, as Bush before him, as Bill Clinton and Clinton’s “tutor”, George H W Bush before him. There is no good side to what the world is about to experience with President Trump.

“Ladies and gentlemen, It’s Showtime!” Today we give you Donald Trump. He will tell you just what many of you want to hear. Trump the showman will tell you he will make America great again; Trump will say he will ship at least three million illegals back across the Rio Grande; Trump will introduce a bill to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization; Trump will bring jobs back to America from China and other low wage countries; Trump will sit down with Putin and work out some kind of a deal to calm things down; Trump will scrap the Iran nuclear deal of Obama …

Often during this election campaign, which was more a Hollywood “D” grade movie than any honest debate of policies and ideas candidate Trump made statements that resonated with the “silent majority” of not only so-called blue collar workers, but also the disenfranchised middle class whose earnings have been declining in real terms since the 1970s. Trump, like an earlier actor-President named Ronald Reagan, has a talent to make himself sound sincere.

Is Trump a Grassroots Revolution?

We should not imagine for one second that the Patriarchy – those loveless old men like David Rockefeller or George Herbert Walker Bush or unnamed others – were so overwhelmed by the political genius of candidate Trump emerging from every scandal more powerful than before, that they were surprised, out-foxed, and just groaned and let it happen.

The Trump Presidency has been planned in minute detail by them and their think tanks. Quite simply, had they continued the policies that Hillary Clinton represented – war and confrontation against Russia, against China, with Color Revolution destabilizations of any and all political leaders who opposed them whether Ghaddafi or Mubarak or even Putin – they saw they were losing power over huge parts of the world, essential geopolitical power.

When a President of the relatively tiny American former colony fears not to openly attack by name an American President as “son of a whore”, and declare in China his Philippines’ “separation” from the United States, when one country after the other comes closer in economic and political cooperation to Russia, to China and to their growing Eurasian economic cohesion around the One Bridge One Road Eurasian infrastructure great project, it was clearly time to install a Plan B President.

That Plan B is casino mogul Donald Trump, a political tabula rasa, a power-possessed person with a blackmail potential that will keep him on program for them, an alpha male who is quite gifted at being able to make people fear.

If we were to use conventional psychological definitions I would say the word sociopath fits: “Antisocial personality disorder characterized by a lack of regard for the moral or legal standards in the culture.” Narcissism would be another apt term: “Extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration …” Read his own autobiography and his descriptions of his earlier antics with mob lawyer and mentor, Roy Cohn, at the cocaine-snorting Studio 54 and look more closely at his actual life history, not only what he dismisses as “locker room talk” eleven years ago with Billy Bush. He is definitely no JFK or Charles de Gaulle, not even close.

I state clearly my conviction, and please recall this as Trump Presidency policies unfold after January 20 2017 to see if I am correct or not: Donald Trump was put into office to prepare America for war, a war the banks of Wall Street and the US military industrial complex are not presently in a position economically or industrially or otherwise, geopolitically, to win. His job will be to reposition the United States for them to reverse the trend to disintegration of American global hegemony, to, as the Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz Project for the New American Century put it in their September 2000 report, “rebuild America’s defenses”.

To do that preparation, a deception strategy that will fatally weaken the developing deep bonds between Russia and China will be priority. It’s already begun. We have a friendly phone call from The Donald to Vladimir the Fearsome in Moscow. Russian media is euphoric about a new era in US-Russia relations after Obama. Then suddenly we hear the war-mongering Nato head, Stoltenberg, suddenly purr soothing words to Russia. Float the idea that California Congressman and Putin acquaintance, Dana Rohrabacher, is leaked as a possible Secretary of State. It’s classic Kissinger Balance of Power geopolitics – seem to ally with the weaker of two mortal enemies, Russia, to isolate the stronger, China. Presumably Vladimir Putin is not so naive or stupid as to fall for it, but that is the plot of Trump’s handlers. Such a strategy of preventing the growing Russia-China cooperation was urged by Zbigniew Brzezinski in a statement this past summer.

Because he’s been selected (and not by us dear voters) to play a definite role – to shift tactics of global domination according to the basics of the 1992 Bush-Wolfowitz Doctrine – preempting any nation or group of nations in Eurasia from challenging American Sole Superpower hegemony – the selection of his Cabinet and key policy advisers, is vital. Here we can already see the outlines of the cast of characters who have been chosen to fill out the theater play called Trump Presidency, and the emerging new plot for reconfiguring the Sole Superpower strategy.

The Dramatis Personae

As of this writing, several key positions have been named. It includes three-star General Mike Flynn to be the President’s National Security Advisor; it includes Congressman Mike Pompeo of Kansas to be Director of Central Intelligence; it includes Jeff Sessions to be US Attorney General and it includes Stephen K Bannon in a newly-created post as White House “Chief Strategist” and Senior Counsellor to the President.

In this article I’ll look closely at Mike Flynn, the former three-star general who will be the all-important Trump National Security Advisor, sitting in the White House. Normally perceptive bloggers and analysts have greeted the Flynn appointment with cheers of joy. They cite his opposition to US covert support for ISIS and Islamic terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda’s Al Nusra; he is on record that the 2003 Iraq invasion was a “strategic mistake”. Moreover, Flynn is opposed to stirring up war with Russia and instead calls for waging war against ISIS and other radical terrorist organizations. In fact Obama fired Flynn as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency when Flynn opposed the Obama decision to prioritize the anti-Russia war over the anti-Jihad war, and called for cooperation with Syrian President Assad to that end.

Flynn’s position on war against ISIS and presumably also against the Muslim Brotherhood so beloved by Hillary Clinton and the Obama Administration, is not one of a man of peace. Rather it is one of a cold, calculating military professional, a military professional who favors working with the Likud of Netanyahu to advance the global agenda of war.

Flynn’s statements on Assad and ISIS and Iraq must be interpreted not in a vacuum but in light of a military intelligence specialist who sees that the decades-long CIA and Pentagon policy of training Muslim Brotherhood and other fanatic Muslim-origin terrorists to wage surrogate wars of empire have backfired badly. Not only the CIA’s July 15 failed coup using networks of Turkey’s Fethullah Gulen, but rather every CIA-backed Jihad war from Secretary of State Clinton’s war against Mubarak, against Gaddafi, against most of the Islamic world to try to impose US-backed Muslim Brotherhood terror regimes loyal to Washington, has failed. The gross effect has been to drive much of the world away from Washington and their constant proxy wars.

An intelligent military strategist would say it’s time for another plan. This is what Flynn is about. He will advance a shift in Washington policy away from using Muslim Brotherhood and allied terror organizations towards more intimate restoration of full cooperation with Israel’s right-wing Netanyahu Likud government.

Walid Phares, Donald Trump’s adviser on terrorism, and Middle Eastern Affairs, told Egyptian media in comments reported by Ben Shapiro’s conservative US blog, The Daily Wire, that Donald Trump will back efforts to outlaw the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, something the Obama Administration vehemently refused and prevented Congress from doing.

Anyone familiar with my latest book, The Lost Hegemon: Whom the gods would destroy (2016), will know I am in no way a friend of the Muslim Brotherhood who have been in a dark alliance with the CIA since the 1950s. Yet reality is not simplistic as in, “my enemy’s enemy is my friend …” ¬† Walid Phares, Donald Trump’s key adviser on terrorism and the Middle East, is also a Senior Fellow of a small very pro-Netanyahu think tank called the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Foundation for Defense of Democracies?

The Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (“FDD”), was created in the wake of September 11 2001 by a former Republican National Committee communications director, Clifford May, in order to, as it declares on its website, “promote pluralism, defend democratic values, and fight the ideologies that drive terrorism”.

The notable point about the FDD, whose Senior Fellow, Walid Phares is guiding President-elect Trump on the Middle East and terrorism, is the money trail behind it. It was founded and financed by a group of US billionaires closely tied to Benjamin Netanyahu and his Israeli geopolitical agenda. The donors include the notorious Sheldon Adelson, Las Vegas and Macau gambling casino mogul who according to the Israeli press gave the Trump campaign $25 million in the closing critical days. Other FDD financial backers include Jewish American with a long history of funding pro-Israel organizations: Bernard Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot; whiskey heirs Samuel and Edgar Bronfman; Wall Street billionaire speculators Michael Steinhardt and Paul Singer, and Leonard Abramson, founder of US Healthcare.

No surprise then that the main Washington think tank called on to testify against the Obama agenda of coming to a nuclear deal with Iran and lifting sanctions was the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who testified seventeen times against the Iran plan. FDD’s executive director, Mark Dubowitz, even helped design the sanctions regime on Iran and its oil sales that was put in place in 2010.

In addition, most other positions of the FDD echo those of the Netanyahu regime in Tel Aviv. Toby Dershowitz, who spent fourteen years as AIPAC’s communications head, is the FDD vice president for government relations and strategy. AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, was described by John Mearsheimer, University of Chicago professor, as “an agent of the Israeli government with a stranglehold on the United States Congress with its power and influence”. Trump was a featured speaker at the March 2016 AIPAC annual meeting.

Mike Flynn and Mike Ledeen

Now we return to the anti-Muslim Brotherhood National Security Advisor, Mike Flynn. Flynn, along with CIA director-designate Mike Pompeo, agrees that the Obama Iran nuclear deal should be scrapped and calls Iran a state sponsor of terrorism, a position dear to Netanyahu’s heart.

Flynn also wrote a book together with Michael Ledeen. One doesn’t co-author a book with just anyone. I know. It has to be one whose thoughts are in full harmony with yours. Michael Ledeen is today a Freedom Scholar at, now isn’t this interesting: the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Worth noting, financial investor, Jim Rickards, also is on the Board of Advisors of the Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and former CIA Director James Woolsey, rumored being considered for a top post with the Trump project, is one of four members of the FDD Leadership Council.

This year, 2016, Ledeen co-authored a book with National Security Council (“NSC”) Director-designate Mike Flynn titled, Field of Fight: How to Win the War Against Radical Islam and its Allies. The ties between Ledeen and Trump NSC director are clearly not casual.

Years ago Ledeen – who was implicated in the illegal Iran-Contra arm for cocaine dealings of G H W Bush and his CIA Old Boys network during the Reagan years – wrote a doctoral dissertation which I once saw, today almost impossible to find. It was titled “Universal Fascism”, and dealt with the applicability of Italian fascism of Mussolini to a global model, a fascist one world order if you will.

Michael Ledeen, who prefers to be in the background, is perhaps best characterized as a Godfather of the neoconservatives. He has shaped the policies of the likes of Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and others of the US war faction.

In 2003 just as the Bush-Cheney-Wolfowitz war on Iraq was underway, Ledeen gave a speech titled, “Time to Focus on Iran – The Mother of Modern Terrorism”, for the pro-Netanyahu Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (“JINSA”) in which he declared, “the time for diplomacy is at an end; it is time for a free Iran, free Syria and free Lebanon”. To “free” Iran, Syria and Lebanon back in 2003, almost a decade before the US war against Assad, Ledeen declared that Iraq, Iran and Syria should get their “freedom” through a US-led “total War”.

According to reports of those near the cabinet selection process of president-elect Donald Trump, two people have decisive influence on who is being selected – Trump’s 35-year-old politically inexperienced son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Mike Flynn. Trump has even asked those two to sit in with him on those highly classified Presidential briefings.

Winston Churchill once said, “In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies”. It is already clear that the project of the Trump Presidency, to prepare America for a new war, is already being well attended by a bodyguard of lies.


F William Engdahl is strategic risk consultant and lecturer, he holds a degree in politics from Princeton University and is a best-selling author on oil and geopolitics, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”

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